The current trend for real estate developers in Jerusalem, these days, is to put up a hotel with adjacent residences. Best-known to date is the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria, where owners of apartments in the residential complex across the way can receive the services of the hotel.
Long before the Jerusalem Waldorf Astoria opened its doors, Alrov, founded by Alfred Akirov, built the luxury Mamilla residences, which are close to both his David Citadel and Mamilla Hotels. This will presumably also be the case with the Intercontinental, which is under construction near Independence Park, the hotel and residences by the Sherover Promenade being built by supermarket discount king Rami Levy and Avi Murdoch, and Le Grande Hotel in the heart of Jaffa Road being built by French billionaire Laurent Levy. They are not the only ones. There are several others.
Close to completion is the MGallery at Theatron Hotel and Residences built by third-generation property developers Achim Hasid, who do not call themselves Hasid Brothers, but have transliterated their Hebrew brand name.
Known for their high-quality luxurious residences, Achim Hasid has ventured into the hotel industry and have entered into an arrangement with Accor, one of the world’s largest hotel management and franchise companies whose properties, under a variety of brand-names such as Ibis, Pullman, Novotel, Mercure, McGallery, Softiel and more, ranging from luxury to economy.
In addition, Accor has a loyalty program that entitles its millions of members to discounts on all Accor services and hotel rooms anywhere in the world.
The M in MGallery stands for memorable moments, explains Sheldon Ritz, the general manager of both the hotel and the residences. Ritz, originally from South Africa, came on aliya in 1992 and initially worked at the Jerusalem Hilton, which is now the David Citadel Hotel. After a relatively brief period, he joined the Dan chain where he served in various executive positions – mostly at the King David hotel – for 23 years, where he was best known for his dealings with embassies, diplomats and visiting heads of state and government.
Close to two years ago, he was offered the position of general manager by the Dayan family, which had purchased Africa Israel Hotels from long-time owner, Lev Leviev. They wanted Ritz to manage the Crowne Plaza, which had actually been the first Hilton hotel in Jerusalem but had been renamed Crowne Plaza and which the Dayans again renamed Vert with the intention of making it a green hotel.
They gave Ritz a free hand and in the 18 months that he served as general manager, he upgraded service, food and beverage, and most importantly, he brought considerable clientele to the hotel. People who had known him at the King David, followed him to the Vert.
But then came another offer, to manage the MGallery. The Dayans were not happy about him leaving and offered him some tempting incentives to stay. But it is the dream of almost everyone in an executive position in the hotel industry to open a new hotel and manage it, and for Ritz, this dream was coming true and it was something he couldn’t resist.
HE HOPES that the hotel, which is directly opposite the Jerusalem Theater in the capital’s Chopin Street in the upscale Talbieh neighborhood, will be open for a breaking-in period of time before Passover and then for the 75th-anniversary celebrations of the proclamation of the Independent state of Israel. There are always a lot of tourists for Israel’s Independence Day celebrations but many more are expected along with numerous dignitaries from abroad for the 75th-anniversary gala.
Ritz notes that 2023 will be a big year for tourism in Israel in many respects, with numerous conferences and anniversaries. He cites Yad Vashem as an example, which will be marking its 70th anniversary in August, and anticipates that supporters of Yad Vashem and descendants of Holocaust survivors will be arriving from several countries.
Jerusalem has two hotel belts in different sections at the entrance to the city, plus a myriad of hotels in side streets in the heart of the city and luxury hotels in King David, Keren Hayesod and King George Streets, which are all very close to each other.
The MGallery is the only deluxe hotel in its immediate vicinity.
It has a total of 99 rooms and suites, with 73 of the rooms ranging in size from 26-30 sq.m., plus 26 different-sized suites on the four upper floors beginning with 58 sq.m. and culminating with two presidential suites of 320 sq.m. each. These are considerably larger than in any other hotel in the city, says Ritz.
The hotel has underground parking for 700 cars, taking into account the parking needs of patrons of the Jerusalem Theater.
Altogether, the hotel has 13 elevators. Those within the car park include two private elevators, each of that goes directly to a presidential suite, which meets the security needs of visiting presidents and prime ministers. Within each of the two presidential suites is another elevator that goes directly to a private rooftop swimming pool – one for each of the two presidential suites. There is an indoor pool for other guests.
All suites have panoramic views of southern Jerusalem. All the suites are equipped with kitchenettes, and large bathrooms, but only the presidential suites have bathtubs. The bathrooms, have built-in toiletries, meaning that there will be no souvenir shampoos and conditioners to take home because the policy is no plastics in the hotel.
The reason for the kitchenettes, says Ritz, is that some diplomats and business people come on special assignments for a few months or a few weeks, and don’t really want to rent an apartment. It’s more convenient to be able to prepare their own meals if necessary.
All suites are provided with glass dishes, so as to avoid kashrut problems. In addition, there will be a permanent kashrut supervisor on the premises in the person of Rabbi Zvika Shkedy, who will act in accordance with the guidelines stipulated by the Jerusalem Rabbinate and will also lead the services in the hotel’s fully equipped synagogue.
The hotel will function as a bed and breakfast facility but room service will be available 24/7. There is no demi-pension or full-board accommodation but guests who stay in for Shabbat can order Friday night and Saturday meals at an extra cost.
THE HOTEL will have an intimate dairy restaurant and cocktail bar, as distinct from a hotel dining room, which is generally much larger. There will be a meat menu in the evenings. The restaurant will be open from noon to midnight, and throughout the day will serve high tea, including scones. There will also be light music for the enjoyment of guests.
By the end of the year, it is hoped that an additional indoor-outdoor restaurant can be built, depending on whether approval is obtained from the relevant local authorities.
In any business, part of the key to success is location, location, location. In the case of MGallery, the location is opposite the Jerusalem Theater, kosher and non-kosher restaurants, the Jerusalem Bar Association, and a synagogue. It is also very close to the historic Hansen House, an arts and culture center, which also has an excellent dairy restaurant. The hotel is a few minutes walk to shops on Palmach Street, the Islamic Museum, the President’s Residence and the Van Leer Institute.
Although he has vast hotel experience, Ritz has never previously managed private residences. This is a new challenge for him. Of the 21 residences, which range in size from 150 sq. m. to 550 sq.m. ten have already been sold – all to foreign buyers. Prices start at $4.5 million (NIS 15.7 m.), and go up to $13 m. (NIS 45.4 m.). Each apartment has two parking spaces.
Ritz does not know at this stage whether the apartments that have been sold will be occupied all year round, or will be ghost apartments to which owners will come on major Jewish holidays. Although she is ultimately responsible for the management of the apartments, the liaison with the owners will be British-born Jeremy Sheldon, who will also be the director of operations at the hotel.
Another Brit, Jonathan Shepson of Habitat Real Estate, is responsible for selling the residences and is the representative of the owners.
Ritz, who will have a staff of 100, is gradually building up his team and is presently looking for a first-class chef.
The most important thing that he wants to implant in the psyche of his staff is that guest is always right. “Never say ‘no’ to a guest,” he insists. “Find a comparable solution. There are always alternatives.” He wants his staff to realize that hotel guests pay their salaries. “When there are no guests, there are no salaries, and eventually no jobs. Therefore, service with a smile is always a priority.”